Senior Labour figure Ed Balls has been lobbied by Bradford manufacturers following the party’s policies being scrutinised for lack of business empathy.
The Morley & Outwood MP, and likely Chancellor if Labour wins the upcoming election, visited Silsden-based Advanced Actuators and discussed policy issues with a small group of local businesses. Chris Woodhead of the exporting and award-winning engineering company chaired the meeting, at which the issues of skills shortages, bank finance and exporting were all to the fore.
The now age-old problem of getting youngsters interested in what is still (but wrongly) perceived as a dirty, sweaty and noisy working environment was echoed by all present. Struggles to recruit apprentices, aswell as technical and other skilled staff also featured prominently.
Mr Balls and local Labour election candidate John Grogan were told, too, that tie-ing funding and key performance indicators to job creation does not always support business and therefore economic growth. Technological changes mean that manufacturing does not need high employee numbers in the way it used to; and it’s not the job of business to create jobs.
Mike Cartwright, who organised the event for Bradford Chamber, said: “The event gave a platform to some businesses to highlight the tough conditions they face just to survive, let alone grow. Those present stressed that Labour should do more to beef up its business credentials. The event also allowed Chris to show off his great business and staff. “
As well as Advanced Actuators, the other organisations represented were:
• Industrial Centre of Excellence
• Keighley Laboratories
• Racks Industries
• West Yorkshire Spinners
Issues raised during the meeting included:
1. Skills shortages flagged up as the big issue
– Difficulties recruiting apprentices; vacancies going unfilled
– Difficulties recruiting staff with appropriate/relevant technical skills or knowledge
– School-leavers not interested in working in engineering/manufacturing – little/no encouragement from parents or teachers; more work needed to be done in/through schools
– Schools see (or seem to see) FE sector as in direct competition with them for getting pupils on appropriate STEM courses
– Manufacturing sector still seen as dirty/noisy/smelly
2. Several present keen to invest (esp. in equipment/technology) but cautious over uncertain future, in UK and abroad
3. UK manufacturing unable to compete on cost/price, so needs to compete on quality and technology
4. Policies, business support/funding and KPIs that are based on job creation do not help businesses, as this is not their objective – the focus for funding and KPIs needs to change
5. Access to Finance is still an issue as bank conditions too restrictive – easier and quicker to find alternative sources
6. Support for Exports could be better – i.e. having to self-fund export research via an upfront payment for support is not good